“My platoon beat No 5 platoon at football”

Sydney was enjoying time away from the front line.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 31 May 1918

Today I went on parade again. Paraded at 7 o’clock. Inspected platoon & then we went for a route march under Capt. Rolfe. A glorious morning again & I very much enjoyed the march. The country round here is glorious. We are already at high summer, dogroses are all out & trees in the first beauty of summer foliage, before the dust dims their shrill green.

After lunch to the range. My platoon shot well. I got an 8 inch group and a possible at the application.

By the way my platoon beat No 5 platoon at football 5-4. We are very anxious to take on Mo 7 platoon which beat No 8, 2 nights ago. Got to bed fairly early & read for a time.

Bombardment fairly heavy which disturbed me somewhat in so far as I had a night full of dreams!

Percy Spencer
31 May 1918

A lovely day. Fritz shelled near 17th a little, relieved 24th in front line, and bombed us at night.

Joan Daniels
May 31st Friday

Mummie had a letter yesterday from Auntie Lavinia. Her brother was killed at the front. Also a letter about Eina Furness. He is getting on better than was hoped for so that is great. He was on the third floor of the hospital, & was the only one on that floor who was left alive, falling from there to the basement. Besides having a piece of shell in his head he was injured in the back & arm. Mr Douglass is back from France.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

None the worse for two years as a prisoner of war

We get a glimpse into wartime in a peaceful art of British-occupied Africa (now part of Tanzania). The Ruvuma River forms the bundary between Tanzania and Mozambique, which was in 1918 still a Portugese colony.

1-3-18. Massassie.
R.A.M.C
29th M.A Convoy
British East Africa

Dear Sir,

It is not some time since I wrote to you last, but trust you received my letter in answer to your most welcome letter of 6-8-17. Since writing to you last I have travelled the greater part of this country, the South of Central Railway, I have been over the Ruvoma river into Portuguese territory, but am now back in East Africa.

During the last few months I have had rather a busy time, and have also had my share of illness. I am picking up quickly again now, and feel as full of life as ever. The weather is still very hot. We have had very little rain this season so far: this time last year we were having very heavy rains and were stranded in the swamp for quite a month at a time.

I expect to be going on leave to South Africa some time this month; there are only 5 of us left out of 22 who left England 2 years ago, so I think we shall stand a chance of leave this rainy season.

There is very little game in this part of she country but about 50 miles from here, near the Border almost everything can be seen.

Football is the great game at present as the evenings are very cool now. Our Unit has started a Weekly Paper which is a great success throughout the camp, it is called the “Masassi Times”. If possible I will send you a copy which I am sure you will find very interesting, in fact we can boast the wit of two famous brother Comedians. We are having a very busy time just at present, for the sick average is very high again now, 3-3-18.

It is now Sunday afternoon, tonight we have another service which will be taken by the Rev. Archdeacon Hallet in a Banda at our park. I have had several talks with him, he tells me he has preached at Sunningdale and Ascot and remembered our church when I showed him a photo which I received from home a few months ago. He has been a prisoner in the country for 2 years, but he seems none the worse for his experience, for he is now back at the same Mission as before the war, which is only 4 miles from our camp. The Mission has been used for a hospital by both the Germans and ourselves, but is now given over for its work to be carried on.

It is a lovely building built of stone and brick by the natives, it is built on a hill only a few yards from a great rock several hundred feet high. Looking from a distance the rock appears to overhang the Mission. We have one of these great rocks on all four sides of us, with just a road running between, which is called Bhna. Some of the greatest fights of the campaign took place here, which makes it very historical.

We had a Native Regimental Band here for 2 nights last week, which we all enjoyed being the first we had seen or heard since landing in the country. The natives are very busy with their crops now, most of the land being very fertile, we are able to grow almost anything in the garden we’ve made, but our great trouble is to get the seed. Shops of any description are unheard of in this country so you can imagine our solitude. I think it will appear very strange but pleasant to us all when we get down to South Africa on leave.

I am so pleased to hear that Mrs. Cornish and Miss Mirriam are enjoying good health, please convey my best wishes to everyone at the vicarage. I will now conclude, thanking you for your kindness and trusting you are in the best of health,

Yours sincerely,

W. R. Lewis.

Sunningdale parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P150B/28A/10)

German prisoners say we (English) do not know what shelling is!

Food shortages were a problem for both sides, as blockades of shipping limited imports, and labourers fought rather than brining in crops. In Germany, the problem was serious enough to result in food riots.

26 January 1917

Miss Buck says her friend just from Germany says in Berlin riots 1000 killed! Will Howard says German prisoners say we (English) do not know what shelling is! (Ours so much more awful.)

No pheasants to be fed or reared.

Spirits & beer restricted.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“Since the war began I have altogether knocked off shooting”

Lawyer Arthur Farrer wrote to his client Apsley Cherry-Garrard (invalided home) in response to an invitation to go shooting.

18th September 1916

Dear Cherry-Garrard

It is awfully good of you to ask me to come down and shoot, but since the war began I have altogether knocked off shooting; people here have been so kind in the past asking me to shoot and knowing, as I did, that I ought not to spare the time to go about, I came to a very reluctant decision to give up shooting, at all events for the period of the war. The pressure here increases rather than diminishes, and though the decision was a disagreeable one to take, I am sure it was wise.

We too now are suffering specially by the death of the one young partner we had left here, a son of my senior partner who lost another son at Loos, so I must ask you to forgive me if, as I do, I say ‘no’ to come down and shoot…

Always yours sincerely

Arthur M Farrer

Letter from Arthur Farrer (D/EHR/Z9/72)

Thankful not to be in the trenches

Wounded officer John Wynne-Finch wrote to his brother in law Ralph Glyn from his convalescence in Wales.

John to Ralph (D/EGL/C2/3
Voelas
Bettws-y-Coed
N Wales
Jan 19th 1916
My dear Ralph

We have most certainly had a lovely long stay here. All thanks to my very “tuppenny-halfpenny” wound which refused to heal. During this time I have done a good deal of shooting, and the total bag for the year is really rather good and has beaten all previous records for the years when no pheasants have been reared. Over 1000 pheasants have been killed, and about 400 partridges, and very little shooting was done before the end of November.

The weather here has been very bad, and there have been many occasions when we have wondered how Jimmy was feeling in the North Sea. The gale here on New Year’s Day was of most unprecedented violence, and did a great deal of damage, bringing down over 100 trees in one wood alone. But owing to the war, one can luckily obtain a very good price for timber, and it is so much in demand that I have been able to sell them all, whereas in the ordinary course of events one can get no sale here on account of the cost of carriage….

The rain has also been a most tiresomely frequent visitor, as Meg found to her dismay, during the week she was here. On this account I have very often felt thankful that I was not biding my time in the trenches of Flanders….

My next Medical Board is due in a few days, when I suppose they will pass me fit for duty at Windsor, whither I suppose we shall have to go, to be there I suppose about 2 months before they send me out again.

The war news of the last few days has not been of the very best. The end of Montenegro will not help us very much in the Balkans I am afraid. I would have expected Italy to have sent troops there, because I don’t suppose it will be any help to her to have the Austrians with a longer sea-board in the Adriatic.

The Persian Gulf business also seems a very tough job. It was most awfully sad about poor Ivar. They seem to have had a very severe handling out there. Nevertheless they seem to be making a slow but sure progress, and will no doubt join up very soon.

As regards myself I have been very lucky in getting promoted Captain, after such few years’ service. But it was all due to the formation of the Guards Division and the consequent augmentation of the regimental establishments.

You probably know that Godfrey Fielding now commands the division, and Cavan has got a Corps, XIV, to which the division is shortly to be transferred, so as to be under his command.

The evacuation of Gallipoli was a most astoundingly wonderful feat; and I am simply longing to hear something about it. I often wonder now after reading the Turkish “official” communiqués what amount of truth there is in what they say as regards the booty etc, which they took. It is always difficult to believe anything these days, from whatever source it may emanate.

Maysie still keeps her pack of hounds; and Connell is as naughty and bad as possible. In the house he is no better than a travelling water-cart.

The whole country seems to be full of soldiers; and London is simply one mass of them. Those on leave from France, looking too untidy and dirty for words. One sees also very large numbers of men, of every class, wearing the khaki armlets of the Derby scheme.

I hope you are keeping fit.

Yours ever
John C Wynne Finch

Lady Mary Glyn, Ralph’s mother, also wrote to him.
(more…)

Everyone should learn to shoot

As the war drew on, and it was clear that it was going to last a long time, some men who had not yet joined up started to prepare themselves for service – or for the possibilities of invasion by Germany.

SULHAMSTEAD AND DISTRICT RIFLE CLUB
It is gratifying to hear that this Club has been very well supported during the winter months, but it becomes increasingly more important that everyone should learn to shoot. The report for last year states:

“The Club has been doing splendid work in teaching men to shoot, and a number of men who have been taught on the Club Range are now serving in his Majesty’s Forces. It is hoped that every able-bodied man in the district will join the Club and learn to shoot. Rifles are provided free and capable instructors are in attendance.”

Sulhamstead parish magazine, March 1915 (D/EX725/3)

‘I can ride a horse all right so long as it goes straight’

Percy Spencer continued to practice his riding while training with the Territorials:

Silverdale
Belmont Hill
St Albans
Decr 10.14

Dera Florrie

Thank you very much indeed for the mittens. The day they arrived I wore them out riding. It was a soaking wet afternoon, and I got them wet through, but they have quite recovered, and will be doing duty again tomorrow when I am to go out on a Divisional affair.

That was an unlucky day – the day I wore your silk lined mittens. I was riding with another sergeant and a corporal of the police, when in a side road, in a soaking rain, the corporal’s pony let him down badly. He was in a pickle, but being of an amorous nature, and there being a charming daughter in the house we carried him into, he soon bucked up and was sorry to be taken back to his billet where he now is nursing a bad ankle.

Yesterday I rode another (a big horse) with a police patrol, and pleased the police sergeant very much.

I think now I can ride a horse all right so long as it goes straight, doesn’t stumble, swerve, back or rear…

The Brigadier General went shooting on his estate last week and some of us (including myself) have been presented with a brace of pheasant apiece as a result…

Yours ever

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/29)